Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade

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Tangy, rich, & sweet, this Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe is a whiskey lover’s dream! Made with 7 simple ingredients in 5 minutes or less, this easy marinade is perfectly balanced – its bourbon-forward flavor is offset with rich, tangy balsamic, & a little bit of brown sugar that creates crave-worthy caramelized char on the grill. Use it to elevate anything you throw on the grill this summer – chicken, steak, pork chops, kabobs, & more!

Can’t wait to hit the grill? Be sure to check out the 3rd Annual PWWB Grilling Series, created to help you grill more confidently & deliciously all summer long!

Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.
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Calling All Whiskey Lovers!

Our obsession with this brown sugar bourbon marinade recipe is pretty self-explanatory: brown sugar + bourbon, people! What’s not to love?!

This easy marinade recipe is one I developed with Chris, that whiskey-loving husband of mine, in mind. He loves whiskey-anything. Wanting to make a special grilled meal even more special for him, I grabbed a bottle of bourbon & got to work. (Wife of the year, right?)

The resulting recipe, this brown sugar bourbon marinade hits all the right notes – any harsh bite from the booze is mellowed out with tangy vinegar & dijon, while bourbon’s natural caramelly sweetness is enhanced with brown sugar. It’s so perfectly balanced that it’s a hit with whiskey lovers & haters alike. (Trust me here…even though Chris is a whiskey fanatic, I can’t drink the stuff…but we both love this bourbon marinade!)

& the really fun thing about this bourbon marinade is that it works beautifully with just about anything you’d ever want to throw on the grill. Use it to make the best bourbon chicken, or to add even more flavor to your favorite grilled steaks or pork chops. It’s also great on seafood like shrimp & salmon…seriously, everything! A total summer superstar.

Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade shown in a small ball jar, sitting atop a light blue surface with a fresh sprig of rosemary & crushed red chili pepper flakes on the surface in the foreground & in the background.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade Recipe Highlights

This Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade is (click for shortcuts within this post!)

  • TANGY & SWEET. Rich bourbon is balanced out with tangy balsamic vinegar, which tones down any harsh bite of the whiskey & instead creates tangy, sweet, rich flavor that is especially to die for on the grill!
  • SIMPLE. This bourbon marinade leans on 7 flavor-bomb ingredients, many of which are probably already in your pantry. Plus, it can be mixed up in 5 minutes or less. Easy!
  • VERSATILE. The best part? You can use it on just about everything – bourbon chicken, the best grilled steaks & pork chops, kebabs, veggies & more!

Summer grilling just got a little boozier, & I’m so not mad about it! ♡ Read on to learn more about this homemade marinade, or jump straight to the recipe & get grilling!

Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade Ingredients:

The best thing about this brown sugar bourbon marinade is that it’s so flavorful but it’s made with just 7 very simple ingredients. You literally probably already have everything you need to make it in your pantry. It does not get better than steak house-fancy flavors made from simple pantry ingredients!

Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade ingredients arranged on a light blue surface: bourbon, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, whole grain mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, dried rosemary, & optional crushed red pepper flakes.
Note: full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Bourbon – Of course! There’s no need to grab a top-shelf bourbon in for this bourbon marinade recipe since it’s being mixed with other flavor-forward ingredients. We always have a handle of Jim Beam on hand for our favorite cocktail. It works beautifully in this marinade recipe, too.
  • Balsamic vinegar – Aside from the bourbon, balsamic is probably the most important ingredient in this easy marinade recipe. Its tangy, rich flavor mellows out any harsh notes of the whiskey. For best results, use a nice, aged balsamic vinegar.
  • Brown sugar – For sweetness that balances out the rich, tangy notes of the vinegar & mustard & caramelizes on the grill. For rich, caramelly flavor use dark brown sugar. If you prefer a more natural sweetener, coconut sugar, honey, pure maple syrup, & agave all work as well.
  • Aromatics – Namely garlic (of course!), mustard (either Dijon or whole grain work great here), & rosemary (feel free to use fresh or dried).
  • Olive oil – A little bit to hold the marinade together! Since this grill marinade has so many other big flavors, you don’t need to use an expensive oil. If you prefer grilling with high smoke point oils, that’s cool! You can use avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or whatever neutral oil you love most as an alternative.

How to make this Easy Bourbon Marinade Recipe:

The other thing to love about this brown sugar bourbon marinade recipe? It takes practically no time to make. It’s a really simple one bowl, 5-minute operation!

Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.
Note: full Recipe Directions are provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Here’s how you do it: Simply add all of the ingredients to a medium bowl, whisking to combine. That’s it! With your brown sugar bourbon marinade mixed & ready to go, you can use it immediately or transfer to a small jar & place it in the fridge for later use. (In fact, if you’re prepping for later use, you can skip the bowl & combine all of the ingredients in a small jar & shake to combine – less dishes, for the win!)

Suggested Marinating Time:

Marinating time will vary based on the type of protein you use. Having tested this brown sugar bourbon marinade with a variety of different proteins & a variety of different marinating times, here’s what I suggest:

  • Mild proteins like chicken & pork should soak in this bourbon marinade for at least 6 hours & up to 3 days.
  • Rich or gamey proteins like beef & lamb should soak in this bourbon marinade for at least 12 hours & up to 3 days.
  • Veggies last even longer – you can marinate them for at least 20 minutes or up to 5 days.
  • Delicate proteins (i.e. seafood – salmon, shrimp, flaky white fish) have a shorter marinade time – aim for at least 20 minutes & no more than 1 hour.
Side angle of chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.

Make-Ahead & Meal Prep:

Great news for meal preppers: despite the suggested marinating times for this all-purpose marinade recipe, you can still get ahead on your dinner by prepping the marinade in advance. (A little bonus? The flavors of the marinade meld together even more the longer it sits!)

Here’s what you’ll do:

  • Prep the marinade & store it in a jar or an airtight container in the refrigerator. The marinade will keep for up to 5 days.
  • When you’re ready to start marinating (refer to the suggested marinating times above), simply give the marinade a shake & pour it over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!
Chicken thighs in a Ziploc bag, marinating in Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade. The bag sits atop a light blue surface. “Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade" is penned in the bag's memo area.

You can use this Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade on everything this summer!

Much like the PWWB All-Purpose Marinade, this brown sugar bourbon grill marinade is so versatile. You can use it to add rich bourbon flavor to anything you like to throw on the grill during the summer months.

A few favorite pairings to try include:

  • Chicken. If you love bourbon chicken, this is the marinade for you! It adds so much flavor to lean cuts like boneless, skinless chicken breasts & thighs. You can also use it on bone-in skin on parts, like legs & drumsticks.
  • Seafood. It creates an awesome bourbon glaze on grilled salmon & grilled shrimp skewers!
  • Pork. Grilled pork chops or pork tenderloin practically beg for brown sugar & bourbon!
  • Beef. Another great option, since the flavor of the marinade is big enough to stand up to rich beef. Use on your favorite steaks, like grilled ribeye or flank steak, or to make epic beef kabobs!
  • Veggies. Yes, veggies! This bourbon marinade is great with hearty veggies, like onions, mushrooms, & baby potatoes…yes please! Grill them on their own, or skewer them onto satisfying summer kabobs with your favorite proteins.

No grill? No problem! If you do not have access to a grill, this brown sugar marinade also works great with any other preparation – stovetop, skillet meals, sheet pan meals, etc. Tip! ⇢ You can create a similar caramelized, grilled effect by using a grill pan on the stove or baking in the oven & finishing under the broiler. 

My ideal plate? ⇢The BEST Bourbon Steak Kabobs! Dice some sirloin into bite-sized pieces & cover in the brown sugar bourbon marinade. Skewer the marinated beef with veggies of choice & grill over medium-high heat until crispy & charred. Serve alongside some grilled baby potatoes with a sprinkling of bleu cheese, freshly snipped chives, & coarsely ground black pepper! Easiest grilled steak dinner EVER.

Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

I can’t wait for you to try this Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe! It’s tangy, sweet, boozy, & perfect with anything you throw on the grill! If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Want more marinades for grilling season? Got you covered! Check out PWWB’s 15 Go-To Grilling Marinades. Happy grilling! ♡

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Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 cup 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Condiments, Marinade
  • Method: No-Cook, Grill
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Tangy, rich, & sweet, this Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe is a whiskey lover’s dream! Its bourbon-forward flavor is offset with rich, tangy balsamic, & a little bit of brown sugar creates crave-worthy caramelized char on the grill. Use it to elevate anything you throw on the grill this summer – chicken, steak, pork chops, kabobs, & more!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 pounds meat or veggies of choice
  • ½ cup bourbon (see Recipe Notes)
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (or 1 tablespoon freshly chopped)
  • optional: pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season

Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade ingredients arranged on a light blue surface: bourbon, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, whole grain mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, dried rosemary, & optional crushed red pepper flakes.


Instructions

  1. Mix the brown sugar bourbon: Add the bourbon, brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, mustard, garlic, rosemary, & crushed red pepper flakes, if using, to a bowl or jar. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt & ground black pepper, as desired. Whisk or shake to combine.Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade shown in a small ball jar, sitting atop a light blue surface with a fresh sprig of rosemary & crushed red chili pepper flakes on the surface in the foreground & in the background.
  2. Marinate: Pour the bourbon marinade over your meat or veggies of choice. Marinate at least 6 hours or up to overnight.Chicken thighs in a large glass mixing bowl, marinating in Brown Sugar Bourbon marinade. The bowl sits atop a light blue surface.
  3. Grill as desired. Enjoy!Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.


Notes

  • Bourbon: There’s no need to grab a top-shelf bourbon in for this bourbon marinade recipe since it’s being mixed with other flavor-forward ingredients like balsamic, mustard, & rosemary. We always have a handle of Jim Beam on hand, & it does the trick here!
  • Suggested marinade time: Marinating time will vary based on the type of protein you’d like to use. Having tested this Brown Sugar Bourbon Marinade recipe with a variety of different proteins & a variety of different marinating times, here’s what I suggest:
    • Seafood – At least 20 minutes & no more than 1 hour.
    • Chicken & pork – At least 6 hours & up to 3 days.
    • Beef & lamb – At least 12 hours & up to 3 days.
    • Veggies – At least 20 minutes or up to 5 days.
  • 10-Minute Meal Prep: If you’d like to marinate something beyond the suggested marinade times above but would like to do some meal prep, I suggest prepping the marinade in advance. Store it in a jar or an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days – the flavors meld together even more as the marinade sits. When you’re ready to start marinating (refer to the suggested marinating times above), simply give it the marinade a shake & pour it over whatever meat or veggies you’re using it on – easy!

Keywords: brown sugar bourbon marinade, brown sugar bourbon, grilled chicken marinade, grilled pork chop marinade, steak marinade, summer, pantry ingredients, easy, weeknight dinner

Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Eat Love Eat

Grilled brown sugar bourbon chicken thighs shown on a white speckled plate atop a light blue surface. The chicken is garnished with fresh sprigs of rosemary.

Ready to Hit the Grill?

If this all still feels new to you, I encourage you to head over to Grilling 101, a compliation of tips & tricks for all of the grilling basics – everything from how to light your grill to how to clean your grill.

All this talk about grilling have you feelin’ ready to hit the grill? Me too! Be sure to check out this post for my 15 go-to marinades you need this grilling season. At our house, a good marinade is at the heart of grilling season. I’m positive these marinades will be on repeat at your house this summer! For even more grilled goodness, be sure to check out all of our Grilling & Smoking recipes.

& lastly! Be sure to give @playswellwithbutter a follow on Instagram – I’ll be teaching you how to grill up some goodness all summer long, & we have so much fun on Instagram!

Want more grilling tips & recipes?

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Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 6.29.21
    TRACY A HARRAH said:

    Can you tell me if this recipe is gluten free? Thanks!

    • 7.2.21
      Erin @ Plays Well With Butter said:

      Hi Tracy! Most pure distilled whiskey (ie. Bourbon) is considered gluten-free but if you have celiac or are making for someone with celiac, we would recommend double checking the brand of Bourbon used to make sure. The other ingredients in the marinade should naturally be gluten-free, including the balsamic vinegar. However, to be safe we again always recommend checking labels of specific brands used if you are avoiding gluten consumption!

  2. 6.14.21
    Holly said:

    Super easy and tasty marinade! I used it with chicken breast and marinated for about 5 hours, which seemed to be perfect. Definitely could have gone longer. It was very bourbon forward in the flavor which I loved and felt really highlighted the other flavors. I would suggest not skipping the red pepper flake as it added another dimension to flavor profile and gave that sweet/spicy kick. This would be super good on steaks

  3. 5.28.21
    Ellen Mann said:

    Really easy and tasty marinade. My only suggestion would be to use half the amount of bourbon in the recipe, if you’re not into bourbon, because I found the flavor to be a just a bit strong. Otherwise, I marinated some pork chops and they were wonderful.

  4. 5.18.20
    Sammy Jo said:

    Omgshhh this was so good on chicken thighs!

  5. 6.11.19
    Jessica said:

    I made this with chicken last weekend and it was FANTASTIC! I also remembered to use indirect heat per your guide and the chicken was very juicy and not dry at all!